This study examines who hears what secrets, comparing two similar secrets — one which is highly stigmatized and one which is less so. Using
a unique survey representative of American adults and intake forms from a medical clinic, I document marked differences in who hears these secrets. People who are sympathetic to the stigmatizing secret are more likely to hear of it than those who may react
negatively. This is a consequence not just of people selectively disclosing their own secrets but selectively sharing others’ as well. As a result, people in the same social network will be exposed to and influenced by different information about those they
know and hence experience that network differently. When people effectively exist in networks tailored by others to not offend then the information they hear tends to be that of which they already approve. Were they to hear secrets they disapprove of then
their attitudes might change but they are less likely to hear those secrets. As such, the patterns of secret-hearing contribute to a stasis in public opinion.
This paper uses a nationally representative dataset of discussion relationships to determine what Americans consider to be an important
matter, whether some topics are predominantly discussed with certain types of associates, and if the topic of discussion or the role of the discussant predicts the availability of social support. Results indicate that some topics are pursued or avoided with
particular types of alters, and that the role of the discussant, but not the topic of discussion, predicts the availability of support from our discussion partners. This implies that some differences in measured network structure may be due to variations in
topics discussed, but that topic says little about the supportiveness of the tie once we are dealing with important matters discussants.
Department of Sociology
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